Why is accepting help always so damn hard?
Some of us know the scene all too well. Standing in the grocery line up, your toddler is yanking at your shirt, begging for the brightly wrapped candy displayed inconveniently at his eye level. The baby is squirming relentlessly in your arms, just one chubby fisted escape ploy away from your own Janet Jackson moment. You’re trying to see through the bead of sweat that has dripped into your eye and keep ahold of the jug of milk with one abnormally strong pinky. A voice pipes up from behind you, a sweet looking woman with silver hair and a kind smile says “can I give you a hand?”
Inside your head, you’re screaming “Yes, please take something, anything, out of my hands before I lose every last piece of my sanity in the middle of this Thrifty’s!”
Instead, you hear yourself squeak “Oh, no thank you, I’m okay.”
Which is a completely ridiculous statement.
Everyone can see that you’re not okay, as you fumble towards the checkout. Screaming baby, chocolate-obsessed whining toddler. Your wallet slips out of its armpit fortress and its contents splatter across the floor. Your coins dart in every direction, completely frantic and out of control. Just like your day.
Why do we deny the help? What thought process could be powerful enough that we refuse the exact thing that we’re secretly-not-so-secretly praying for?
We don’t want to burden or inconvenience anyone. Everyone will think that we can’t handle ourselves. We don’t want people to think that we’re failing or inadequate. It’s nobody else’s problem.
That voice rings so loudly in our heads that it drowns out the truth of the other perspective. We know how great it feels when we get to offer our help. Genuinely and kindly, with the hopes of making someone else’s load just a little bit lighter and our soul a tiny bit sunnier.
I was hit with postpartum anxiety and depression after each of my three babies, with varying symptoms and struggles. Though the fog was thick and the cloud that followed me was dark, I recall the worst aspect of all was the shame. People would ask about life as a new mom and I would lie.
I would joke about the weeks of torturous sleeplessness, casually commenting on those pesky hormones. If they knew the truth then they would think I’m a horrible mother. They would know that I made a mistake. I cried every day. Even when I had the opportunity to sleep, my anxiety kept my brain spinning.
I doubted every move I made, but I couldn’t tell anyone that. So we laughed and I lied, sparing them the awkwardness that would come from any kind of real conversation. I told them what they wanted to hear and camouflaged what I needed them to know. I wasn’t okay and I needed some help.
I finally found myself bleary-eyed and diminished, pouring my sorrows into my keyboard, splashing my truth to strangers around the world. The responses that trickled in were incredible. Where I thought I would find criticism and pity, there was community, support and encouragement, new friends with stories that mirrored my own. What I was dealing with wasn’t shameful after all. It was a common part of postpartum. It wasn’t a side effect of my inadequacies as a mother, it was my body struggling to recover from the marathon of pregnancy. Reaching out for support brought me the comfort that I was searching for and the relief of knowing that this period of darkness wouldn’t last forever.
The old testament of community has taken on a new meaning. Our neighbours and our friends used to enlighten our children, teach them their manners and shoo them out the door at dusk. We used to have hundreds of eyes on our kids instead of driving ourselves insane with worry that our one set wasn’t going to keep them safe.
These unnatural walls and expectations of perfection and independence have taken a huge toll on our “village” with new mothers feeling the brunt. We need the wisdom and expertise of the women that have come before us. We need their guidance and their baby-swaying superpowers. We need to remember that “help” doesn’t mean failure or weakness. It’s a way of tying a community together and reminding you that you’re not in this alone.
Mommy’s Inside Voice is a biweekly column by Amie Jay, a local mother of three.